This race report has been provided by Jodie Willett, Elite XC and XCM racer.
It is an inauspicious start to a race when your crew are cleaning ice off the car windscreen with credit cards. We had been closely monitoring the weather forecast all week and with minus 4 to 14⁰C predicted CORC benevolently delayed the start times for the National MTB Marathon Champs by an hour for the comfort of the riders and, no doubt, the course marshalls. Having sampled some of Belgium’s finest, the low temperatures didn’t phase me. After starting a World Cup at 1⁰C and having the temperature FALL during the event I figured that shivering through the first 10 minutes in Canberra while the ambient climbed to double digits sounded blissful.
Being so busy with work and coaching I honestly hadn’t thought much about the race, even remarking to Mike on my lack of nervousness and anxiety – it was making me nervous and anxious. As soon as we were lined up at the start though, the usual “I think I may vomit in my mouth” feeling was there – great. The day I don’t get that feeling it will be time to hang up the chamois.
The difficulty of a course can be calculated by the SP (Suffering Potential). This is the vertical ascent divided by the distance. With 2,500m of climbing over 84km the Canberra course would be tough. After the first 10km of bunch riding without any significant uphill stretches the climbing was further condensed, upping the ‘ouch’ factor.
Before we’d hit the first singletrack there were three of us off the front, myself with 2011 National XCM Champ Jenny Fay and former pro road rider Peta Mullens. Peta and Jenny started surging and launching attacks on each other. My legs wanted none of that business so I kept pedaling at a steady tempo, worried that my lack of rides over 3.5 hours would bring me undone in the later stages. Merely surviving the distance would require pacing. The trails brought a certain nostalgia and I reminisced on my history at Stromlo. There were parts of my first National XCO track, the 2009 World Champs course I raced and the 2010 World 24 hour parcours. Oh the memories – painful, painful memories.
Getting through the first lap feeling none too shabby we headed out on the final lap and I turned up what pace I had left up the first big climb, surprisingly dropping Jenny Fay who had been looking strong. Peta had a gap of about 90 seconds but with her being mostly out of sight due to singletrack, climbs and trees (wow, Stromlo has trees now!) it was difficult to stay motivated in the chase.
I’m not sure if it was the cool conditions or rough track but I was not eating or drinking nearly as much as usual. Having used gels exclusively during races I’d decided to experiment with some solid food but was promptly reminded of the distinct lack of saliva one has in the throes of extreme effort. Mustering my best squirrel cheeks while I furiously squirted in fluid to force sustenance into an unwilling stomach I vowed to return to my previous strategy. Lifting the back wheel while dropping into the downhill course I was caught mid-air with two cramping quads highlighting my failure in the hydration department also. The men’s field were making their way through and every time I was fearful of being passed by a resurgent Fay.
People think I race a marathon, but I don’t really. I race the first 3 hours and after that my legs have one pace, despite my protests. Not wanting to settle for another silver medal (after 2009 and 2010), I threw everything I had at the last hour but Peta was on a flyer and would not be caught. You can tell the course designer is a mountain biker (thanks Andy Blair) as the last 5kms were almost exclusively down hill on some ripping singletrack – a perfect time for reflection on the race that was. Former Australian Road Race champion and international rider Ruth Corset described it as one of the toughest races she has ever done and called the climbs ‘unbelievable’. From someone who has ridden many of the Alps in Europe that comment is a testament to the challenging nature of this course and marathon racing in general.
Kudos to CORC for the clockwork organisation and presentation of the event and to the crew from MarathonMTB for the rock star treatment.